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Biden issues veto threats on House GOP-drafted spending bills

Appropriations bills could be cut further as legislation moves across the House floor

President Joe Biden addresses the media about the debt limit deal before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Memorial Day, May 29, 2023.
President Joe Biden addresses the media about the debt limit deal before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Memorial Day, May 29, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The White House has threatened to veto two fiscal 2024 appropriations bills House Republicans plan on bringing to the floor this week.

President Joe Biden would veto the Military Construction-VA and Agriculture bills if they reached his desk, the White House budget office announced Monday. However, the Senate is pursuing its own appropriations bills with higher spending levels, meaning the bills House Republicans are considering are unlikely to become law and are intended to stake out a negotiating position.

The Rules Committee is set to meet Tuesday to set the terms for floor debate of the Military Construction-VA measure, and on Wednesday to consider which amendments to allow for the Agriculture bill.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus are seeking further cuts to this cycle’s appropriations bills, and House leadership has signaled that they will cut spending levels even further than the amount laid out in the Appropriations Committee’s bills.

In the statements of administration policy on Monday, the White House criticized House Republicans for writing spending bills under the levels agreed to in the debt limit law, arguing the cuts could “endanger critical services for the American people.”

“House Republicans had an opportunity to engage in a productive, bipartisan appropriations process, but instead, with just two months before the end of the fiscal year, are wasting time with partisan bills that cut domestic spending levels,” the administration stated.

Along with Democrats’ objections to spending levels, the administration argues that the bills Republicans are pursuing include “numerous new, partisan policy provisions with devastating consequences” that would hurt abortion access, discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, harm climate initiatives and halt the administration’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

House appropriators allocated a total of $155.7 billion for discretionary programs in the Military Construction-VA bill. Senate appropriators included a similar amount, with $154.4 billion in discretionary spending in their version of the bill.

The Senate bill would provide more for military construction and housing — including $1 billion more for earmarks — than the House version. The House would boost overall Department of Veterans Affairs administrative funds by more than the Senate, though the two chambers each include the $121 billion for VA health care informally agreed to in the debt limit deal.

The statement of administration policy said the White House appreciates the VA medical care funds included in the House bill. However, the administration opposes the legislation for a series of Republican cultural priorities that were included.

The bill includes language the administration says would make it more difficult for the VA to provide abortion services to veterans in cases where the health of the woman is endangered, as it blocks an administrative rule that would expand abortion access in some cases.

It also would bar the administration from flying flags supporting the LGBTQ community at VA facilities and prevent the VA from providing gender-affirming services for transgender individuals.

“This would prevent VA from providing the full extent of quality care to veterans and legislates on decisions that should be left to the patient and their healthcare provider,” the administration said.

House appropriators provide $25.3 billion in discretionary funding in the Agriculture bill, though that includes $8 billion in rescissions of previous spending on top of the allocation of $17.8 billion. Conservatives want to make deeper cuts and push program funding down closer to the base allocation — something could play out during the Rules Committee meeting or when the bill gets to the floor.

Senate appropriators included nearly $26 billion in spending in their Agriculture measure.

In the statement about the Agriculture measure, the White House expressed concern about cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and the USDA agency which administers nutrition programs.

The administration also opposes the rescissions the House Republicans are pursuing, arguing that farmers and ranchers who have faced discrimination would lose out on $2.2 billion in spending allocated in last year’s climate and health care law. The administration also opposes rescissions to programs that encourage farmers to use renewable energy systems.

Biden also opposes House Republican appropriators’ decision to block the abortion drug mifepristone from being dispensed in pharmacies to patients with a prescription, and opposes parts of the measure that prevent the Food and Drug Administration from eliminating menthol in cigarettes, flavored cigars and limiting nicotine in those products.

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